A moderate earthquake rocked southwestern Utah early Wednesday, demolishing a three-home subdivision, breaking waterlines, knocking out electrical power and causing rock slides that blocked the southern entrance road to Zion National Park.
The University of Utah seismograph station estimated the quake at 5.9 on the Richter scale, but the U.S. Geological Survey's National Earthquake Information Center in Golden, Colo., put it at 5.5.The quake struck at 4:26 a.m. It was centered about five miles southeast of St. George, said Sue Neva, senior staff seismologist at the university seismograph station.
No serious injuries were reported.
All three homes of the Balanced Rock subdivision near Springdale, close to the park's entrance, were destroyed. "One is sliding down the hill and the other two, they're buckled," said Springdale City Manager Paul Millett.
Mr. and Mrs. Rudy Lueck were trapped in their home in the Balanced Rock subdivision when the house was damaged, Millett said. Two emergency medical technicians from the Springdale ambulance service "broke them out and started walking them downhill," he said.
"The elderly man (Lueck) had a little heart trouble this morning, but he's stabilized and he's OK at a friend's house this morning."
A big boom woke Millett, and his home was "rocking and rolling." Although the ground shook for less than a minute, it seemed like a long time, he said. "There was an awful lot of dust in the air this morning."
The mountain started sliding about 6 a.m., he said. "Rocks were rolling and moving, fissures were opening up, and the earth was coming down. It's still going on. It's still moving," he said, six hours after the quake.
Also evacuated from the Balanced Rock subdivision was the Mark Minert family. The third home was unoccupied. Minert's home started sliding, he said.
The temblor broke a water main that fed the subdivision and communities close to the mountain's base, and workers rerouted water to continue service. Electrical power to much of Springdale was knocked out.
"Aftershocks are to be expected. Typically, they're 1.2 magnitude units less than the main shock," said Neva. "They'll probably start within hours of the main shock and continue for several months."
"There is a mountain east of Flannigan Inn, near the Zion Park entrance, that is falling," said Denice Springer, officer manager for the Washington County Sheriff's Department, St. George.
"We have officers on the scene and the road, ready to clear the damage when it does fall. There are a couple of homes on that mountain that are coming down with it. There's nothing they can do to stop it."
In addition, power lines on the mountain may go down.
"We have no reports of serious personal injury at all in the county as yet," Springer said.
John Neighbor, Washington County undersheriff, said crews have been clearing rocks from highways. "They've blocked off roads," he said. "We've got officers out providing traffic control."
"We thought an airplane hit our house," said Sonja Sweeton, who with her husband owns the Eagle's Nest Indian Store in Springdale.
"It startled us out of our sleep. We have a log home with a lot of rafters inside, and they were all banging onto each other. . . . We just dove under the bed and listened to things falling out of the cupboard and breaking. We were scared to death."
Kachina dolls, pottery, pictures and dishes were broken at the home and store, "and our groceries fell off our shelves," she said.
The sharp jolt was felt as far away as Richfield, Kanab and Salina, said William J. Alder, meteorologist in charge of the National Weather Service's Salt Lake forecast center. Weather watchers called him from around the region to report the quake.
"It woke us up right away, and it looked like the whole roof was moving back and forth, and the fence out in the yard was moving back and forth," said Donna Tedd, St. George.
Violent shaking continued for about 10 seconds, she said. "We've had tremors down here before, but I knew right away this was a full-fledged earthquake."
Dust stirred up by the quake filled Hurricane Valley, said Grant Twitchell, who lives in Hurricane. "It just about threw me out of bed. It was pretty strong," he said.
"I was about half awake, and it was just like we were riding a roller coaster (with) the waves. The house tilted."
While driving on the I-15 freeway toward Cedar City at about 7 a.m., near the Kolob Canyons section of Zion National Park, "I saw this little cloud forming, and I thought, `Well, there's no way a cloud should form at that elevation. It was about halfway up the cliffs.
"It was a rock fall."
Twitchell attempted to drive into Zion, but that part of the park was closed.
"State Road 9 just outside of the park boundary is blocked within a quarter-mile of the park entrance," said Denny Davies, chief of interpretation and the public information officer for Zion National Park.
"A major slide of several hundred cubic yards of material has rolled down and essentially blocked State Road 9. At 8 o'clock this morning there were still rocks falling, so it's very unstable. That rockslide has disrupted the power supply," Davies said.
The park was closed to incoming traffic, and visitors at Zion Lodge within the park were asked to leave.
The manager of Zion Lodge contacted Davies by radio and told him several rocks damaged the lodge's roof. "They were saying as a result of the earthquake there was a crack that appeared in the ceiling inside the lodge," he added.
The roof of the restroom at Zion Narrows was destroyed also, Davies was told. The park had no reports of injuries.
Ben Moffett, National Park Service spokesman in Denver, said only one telephone line into the park was still working.
"I thought maybe it was a rock fall or something," said Mildred Jensen, Rockville, which is about three miles west of Springdale. "We were sound asleep, and I jumped right on top of my husband."
It was a big, hard jolt, she said, but their home apparently was not damaged.
"This thing shook and rattled and rolled," said Judy Lee, contacted at the Best Western Driftwood Lodge, Springdale. "There has been some damage here in Springdale. There's a rock slide between Springdale and the park entrance that they're working on."
Dust hung in the air in Springdale, she said.
"I grew up in southern California. I felt them before. I knew what was happening. But it isn't any fun to have it happen to you at 4:30 in the morning."
Lynette Goodwin of New Harmony, Washington County, said she heard that a waterline broke in that town.
Myrna Fraley, who works at the post office in Springdale, said, "There are some houses alongside the hill that have been damaged. You can't get to them. They're back up in the hills."
"In the Springdale area there's power out and a lot of problems up there," said Alan Merritt, dispatcher at the St. George power plant.
"Here in St. George we had a lot of stuff in the streets. Had to get heavy equipment out to get rocks and debris out of the streets in town." Most of the material was cleared by mid-morning, he said.
St. George Police Chief Kelly Larson said the city didn't suffer much damage. There were reports of "some structural damage, plaster off the walls, stuff like that," he said.
Neva said she wasn't certain whether the quake struck a known fault. The closest seismograph is in Cedar City, far enough away to prevent pinpointing the epicenter accurately enough to know if it was on a fault.
"There are quite a few" active faults in the area, she said. "The nearest is the Washington Fault."
The U. seismograph station planned to send a team to the earthquake region Wednesday.